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Denver Public Library hires peer navigators to help homeless get back on their feet

Navigators have "lived experience"
Posted: 9:52 PM, Jan 31, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-01 00:59:09-05

DENVER -- Homelessness is an issue we deal with in our community every day. It's complicated, easy to ignore, but hard to understand.

The Denver Public Library is now stepping in to help by hiring three part-time peer navigators to work with customers who are experiencing poverty and homelessness.

"Libraries have become a community center because we do so many other things besides check out books," said Sarah Humble one of the new peer navigators.  

All of the peer navigators have "lived experience," meaning they've dealt with substance abuse issues, mental illness or homelessness in the past.

"I've been there in some of the situations that some of the people are in now, and people reached out and connected with me and they helped me," said Humble.

She's lived through mental illness and substance abuse, and isn't shy about her past.

"I have lived on somebody's couch and lived in somebody's business illegally," she said.

Holmes also knows firsthand why dozens of homeless people line up every morning outside the central library on Broadway St., waiting for it open.

"It was a rainy day and there were probably 40 or 50 people," said Humble. "They're waiting to get in the library because it's a safe warm place, and it is not safe or warm on the streets."

The program is being funded with $41,000 in federal grant money.

It will run through the end of the year, with a renewal option if the library team meets standards set by the government and Denver Human Services.

The peer navigators have drop-in hours where anyone can stop by and ask questions.

They also do active outreach in the library and are mainly focused on connecting people in need with the right resources.

"Connecting to resources like food lines throughout the area, ID assistance, clothing resources," said Kristi Schaefer, a community resource specialist. 

Social workers were first brought into the library in 2015.

Since then, the number of people they've helped has skyrocketed.

They contacted 434 individuals in 2015 and 1,265 in 2016.  A nearly 200 percent increase.

"Not something that's happening in every library," said Humble.

Peer navigators are a new idea; Humble hopes can make a powerful impact.

"If you don't have a job in a month or two, it could be you. It could be very single one of us or at least most of us and that I don't think people realize that, I really don't," she said. 

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